Japanese publisher: Taiyou Tosho, 2009
Licensed in English? Yes! Digital Manga Guild has released it under the title ‘Blooming Darling’
Volumes: 2 (complete)
Warnings: Implied het in the form of a past girlfriend
These two volumes are a continuation of the one-shot Hanasakeru Bokutachi in Yamamoto Sensei’s earlier tankoubon, Koi to Wana.
Murakami Takashi is busy at work in the flower shop owned by his manager and lover, Haruhiko. Unfortunately, now that they’re going out, Haru is constantly availing himself of Takashi’s body by groping and teasing him, even during work. Luckily Takashi isn’t about to give in to that, and despite their bickering, Haru and Takashi’s love only strengthens over time.
The premise doesn’t sound like much, but one of Yamamoto Sensei’s great strengths is her ability to write eminently readable and enjoyable stories about everyday life. But perhaps her greatest strength is her vivid and charming characters: Haruhiko is shameless and rude, yet is also a competent manager and surprisingly considerate towards his friends and lover when they need him. His relationship with the naïve and shy Takashi is hilariously dysfunctional, but that just makes their private moments of connection all the more tender. Just when you think you know where the story is headed, one or more characters will do something completely unexpected, and the reader has the joy of watching the other characters react. The supporting cast of Ryou, the lovely but dense flower shop assistant, and his salaryman lover Tsusuki, are as well-drawn as their relationship is tooth-rottingly lovey dovey. (Haruhiko and Takashi’s repulsed reaction to their friends’ exaggerated PDA is also very relatable).
I appreciated the insight the reader gets into Japanese culture and customs through the manga too; although hardly an unusual conflict in BL manga, I found Takashi’s avoidance of sex (despite enjoying it) because he found his own reactions shameful a realistic behaviour, considering many children are brought up to regard intimacy as embarrassing. Also, despite Haruhiko repeatedly telling Takashi to use his given name, Takashi is unable to do so (or perhaps chooses not to) because ‘Manager’ is both older than him and is his boss ― even if they have been living together for two years. Moreover, Takashi abstains from drinking until he reaches his majority (twenty), despite the story beginning when he’s aged eighteen. I’m still unclear if this common occurrence in manga is anti-underage drinking propaganda, or if kids in Japan really are liable to wait until they’re of age. But I digress.
None of the mini-plots in Mankai Darling are particularly original: we have the usual love rivals, birthday parties gone awry, insecurity of one character over their ability to be of use to the others, and a group trip to an onsen. Despite the familiarity of the situations though, Yamamoto Kotetsuko regularly creates laugh out loud moments with her combative characters ― and also a few heart-pounding moments of real drama (though even these are still intercut with touches of humour). The physicality of Haruhiko in particular often pushes Mankai Darling into the realm of the slapstick, yet despite the frequent hyperbole there is always a sense of realism beneath it all, particularly in regards to the latter parts of the second volume.
On that note I have to give Yamamoto Sensei props for not shying away from including a chapter about Ryou, Tsuzuki and Haruhiko’s past, including Haru’s semi-onscreen heterosexual relationship with Momoe. Often flashbacks such as these come off as indulgent or unnecessary, but instead we’re treated to the beginning of Ryou and Tsuzuki’s unlikely relationship ― and the most awkward, hilarious, painful and cute love confession I think I’ve ever read in a manga.
Mankai Darling isn’t my favourite of Yamamoto Sensei’s many wonderful manga (that place in my heart belongs to Honto Yajuu aka ‘Like the Beast’, twice over), but it is nevertheless a truly enjoyable and funny story about a group of dysfunctional but loveable characters living out their modest lives, and still includes enough clever and subtle touches to merit many a future re-read.